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December 2023
Vol. 23, No. 3

Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Roy Acuff: The Smokey Mountain Boy at 100 Years and a Blues Thing or Two

by Lou CurtissJanuary 2021

Roy Acuff

The first phonograph records that I was even consciously aware of when I was about four or five years old were by Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys on those old lavender Okey 78s and, I think, one on Melotone that my Mom picked up at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I remember tunes like “Wreck on the Highway,” “Low and Lonely,” “Tell Mother I’ll Be There,” “Be Honest With Me,” and, of course, “The Wabash Cannonball.” We also heard Roy on the national Prince Albert Grand Ole Opry broadcasts every Saturday night. Throughout my life his music has been an important part of my musical heritage, not always at the forefront but there nonetheless. For me, Roy nearly always symbolized what was right about country music. I can’t say that I always agreed with his musical choices but more often than not he pointed the way I was going. Roy always stood for the traditional side of Nashville and I always thought he was a bit lost with the Nashville Sound and the non-country direction Nashville had taken during his last few years. This year we celebrate the 100th year of his birth, well over 60 of which were spent on the Opry. Hardly anyone ever speaks of him these days even though he was one of the first four elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and always championed the Opry throughout his time there. I’d like to put together a celebratory concert in Roy’s memory. I’ve talked to a few fellow Acuff fans and I’d like to hear from some others. Call me at Folk Arts Rare Records (619/282-7833) with your ideas.

I recently noted in the promo materials for the recent San Diego Blues Festival that radio station KPRI laughingly called themselves San Diego’s only radio station that plays the blues. Well, that may have been true back around 1970. In fact, I did my first radio show on KPRI, an all-blues show about that time, and guy named Joe Chandler did a show after that for a year or two, but that was about it for blues on KPRI. They do have a blue jean commercial they air every evening for a minute or two but that’s mostly white boy blues rip-offs. The only station that plays blues on a regular basis is KSDS (88.3 FM). Check out their Saturday line up that includes

Second Line Parade, 8-9pm
Every Shade of Blue (T’s award-winning show for over 16 years), 9pm-2am
Beale Street Caravan, 2-3am
Blues Attitude, 3-6am

Then, on Sunday, there’s my own show, Jazz Roots, 8-10pm, and T’s Is It Late Sunday or the Monday Blues. Also on Thursday, check out Blues ‘til Five and on Friday, Blues Out of the Box. A pretty good line up from San Diego’s real “only station that plays the blues.” Check it out.

Henry Ford Thompson

Speaking of San Diego blues, I learned that long-time San Diego bluesman Henry Ford Thompson passed away. I first met Ford when Tom “Tomcat” Courtney brought him by the old Folk Arts store for one of our early ’70s concert series. Originally from Memphis, Ford was a cousin of rock legend Chuck Berry. He and Tomcat’s dueling guitars, with Tom singing, brought down the house at the first San Diego Mini-Blues Festival in June of 1973. They also played together at the fifth and sixth San Diego Folk Festivals and appeared on Advent Records’ San Diego Blues Jam, recorded in 1974 and reissued on CD on the Testament label (TCDS029). In 1979 Ford teamed with Sam Smart and Louis Major (and sometimes Big Daddy Rucker) to play around the San Diego area, including at the first San Diego Blues Festival, held at the Normal Heights Methodist Church in the fall of 1979. After that band kind of came apart, Ford continued to gig occasionally with Tomcat, Fred Heath, and others over the next 22 or 23 years, mostly at local clubs and parties. Like most San Diego blues musicians, he never got his due. Ford was a character and stories about him, many of them unprintable here, are well known. Ford Thompson is gone, but the Ford legend continues and can only grow with time.

Lou Curtiss

Reprinted from the San Diego Troubadour, July 2003.

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